SBD/April 24, 2014/Media

NFL Schedule Reveal: CBS Primetime Package Highlighted By Divisional Rivalries

CBS hoped to get strong rivalry games involving major-market teams

The NFL revealed the '14 regular-season schedule last night, and for CBS' inaugural "Thursday Night Football" slate, the league on paper delivered a "much stronger package than they gave the NFL Network in previous years," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. The schedule "features 14 divisional rivalries" and opens with Steelers-Ravens on Sept. 11. CBS Sports Group Chair Sean McManus said that he had "hoped to get strong rivalry games involving major-market teams, given that those factors are key for sales and high viewership." He said, "I had indications early in the process that we would be given a good first game and this is a really good way to start it off. ... I was also happy that we have the Patriots and Giants and a lot of high profile teams in major markets. For a first year schedule, we are satisfied. In future years as we grow into this -- we have a one-year deal but we are hoping we carry Thursday Night Football for many years -- I think as the league learns more about Thursday Night the schedule will be even better. But I'm satisfied and our sales people are satisfied" (SI.com, 4/24). CBS’ Jim Nantz said, "You wondered how much would they dilute the product by trying to parcel out all these games. I've got to tell you, they went with the strength and I’m really impressed by the game plan here.” Nantz: "The Thursday lineup, it’s really good. ... I don’t think anybody would ever question, this is the strongest Thursday-night lineup we've ever seen for the NFL" (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 4/23).

CBS THURSDAY NIGHT NFL SCHEDULE
WEEK
DATE
MATCHUP
2
9/11
Steelers-Ravens
3
9/18
Buccaneers-Falcons
4
9/25
Giants-Redskins
5
10/2
Vikings-Packers
6
10/9
Colts-Texans
7
10/16
Jets-Patriots
8
10/23
Chargers-Broncos
16*
12/20
Chargers-49ers or Eagles-Redskins (TBD)
     

CHART NOTE: * = Game will air on a Saturday night.

GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT: YAHOO SPORTS' Anwar Richardson noted the season will kick off Sept. 4 on NBC with Packers-Seahawks, and while the Thursday opener has "long featured the defending champion, the ensuing slate of Thursday games had been hit and miss." However, that slate "has been upgraded." The Packers' home game against the Vikings in Week 5 "marks the first week a team from last year's playoffs appears on CBS' Thursday night slate." This year's Thursday schedule "isn't great, but it's certainly better than it has been" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/23). SI.com's Don Banks wrote the NFL is trying to "spruce up the Thursday night schedule as much as possible now that CBS has bought the first half of the schedule." It is possible the "rationale for going almost exclusively with division games is that it adds a familiar and marquee element to most of the pairings." Or perhaps the "short-week schedule the league makes the players endure for the Thursday night package seems more equitable if you're facing a team from your own division" (SI.com, 4/23). However, ADWEEK's Anthony Crupi wrote Falcons-Buccaneers in Week 3 "promises to be a real stinker" based on last year's results, and similar "underperformers mar the CBS TNF schedule." While CBS’ "TNF" schedule "will touch down in seven of the nation’s top 10 DMAs, it will not be graced with the presence" of the Cowboys. It is "a missed opportunity -- last season, five of the top 10 most-watched regular season NFL games featured" the Cowboys (ADWEEK.com, 4/23). CBSSPORTS.com's Will Brinson breaks down the 16 Thursday night games -- "not counting Thanksgiving but including the season opener -- from best to worst" (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/23).

HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE: THE MMQB's Peter King notes NFL Senior VP/Broadcasting Howard Katz and his team this year had multiple "roadblocks to the schedule," including a "combined 17 games in non-traditional slots -- Thursday CBS/NFL Network games, Saturday NFL Network games, and a Sunday morning FOX game (Detroit-Atlanta, from London)." There also were "six One Direction concerts at NFL venues in the fall, New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks playing at Soldier Field on Saturday of Week 9, and baseball" to contend with. The rubric this year is "even a crazier quilt than normal" because of the 49ers and Vikings. The Niners are a "marquee team, but the NFL cannot play non-holiday weeknight games in Santa Clara." Katz said, "We could not play the 49ers on a Monday or Thursday at home, with the exception of Thanksgiving." King notes that is how Seahawks-49ers on Thanksgiving night was made. Meanwhile, after years of "freely scheduling the Vikings, now the restrictions in Minnesota are major because they’re playing on campus at the University of Minnesota while the new Vikings stadium gets built." King: "No home games Monday. No home games Thursday. No home games on Gopher football weekends." Katz said, "We threw away probably 175 schedules that we’d have played without batting an eye five years ago" (MMQB.SI.com, 4/24).

I WANT YOUR FLEX: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez noted the NFL and NBC "can now 'flex' two of the six Sunday night games between Weeks 5 and 10 to ditch less-attractive matchups in favor of better ones." For the large majority of NFL fans "who watch games from home, this is great news." It is "better football from the couch." But for those "who actually attend the games, it’s another story altogether," as not everyone "loves night games." With the "increased possibility of kickoff-time roulette, I can understand why some fans would think season tickets just aren’t worth it anymore" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/23).

INFORMATION OVERLOAD
: SPORTS ON EARTH's Aaron Gordon writes ESPN believes the NFL season "never actually ends," which is the "philosophy which brings us months of draft speculation masquerading as expertise and, Wednesday night, a two-hour schedule release program." During the schedule release show, Ryan Clark, Jerome Bettis, Pete Carroll and NaVorro Bowman "all confessed they don't pay much, if any, attention to the schedule, and especially not in April." That is, ESPN aired a program "about a topic to talk about how unimportant that topic is." But, this is "why ESPN pays billions for NFL rights: the permission to make this noise year-round" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 4/24).

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